All We Are Saying Is, Make Smarter War

Will Democratic foreign policy be built by the hawkish Madeleine Albright?

Madeleine Albright has been everywhere in her adopted home town of Denver this week. The former Secretary of State and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, the hard-core Wilsonian who was central in transforming Bill Clinton's second-term foreign policy from cautiously scattershot to Munich-invoking liberal-interventionist, is playing a weird role in Barack Obama's Democratic Party.

This is a time when left-of-center anti-war sentiment is high enough that a relatively unknown Chicago pol croaked the Hillary Clinton machine largely because he was the only major anti-Iraq War candidate in the race. It's a time when Democrats are falling all over themselves criticizing George W. Bush's Russia-provoking recognition of Kosovo as an independent state. And yet the main architect of the Kosovo War—a sovereignty-busting conflict that, unlike Iraq, had no congressional support whatsoever, and much less support at the United Nations—is at the center of rebuilding the Democratic foreign-policy messaging and approach.

You'd think that such a disconnect between anti-war base and pro-interventionist leadership would cause a few brains to explode, but the only people who seem to be hearing the dissonance in Denver are journalists.

True, the foreign policy discussion here is exponentially more robust and well-intended than at the last two Democratic conventions. At each event, no matter who the speaker—Albright, Bill Clinton, Richard Danzig, Richard Holbrooke, William Perry—you will almost definitely hear the same areas of agreement. These are:

1) The U.S. needs to restore its shattered moral authority in the world, and rebuild alliances based on a more collaborative approach.

2) We need to take the war on Al Qaeda more robustly in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

3) Climate change (for the better) and "energy independence" are central to foreign policy.

4) So is "global inequality," "income disparity," and "the growing gap between rich and poor." Oddly, this particular line is never followed up with, "And that's why we need to reduce domestic farm subsidies and take down global trade barriers.

5) Nuclear proliferation is a big problem, and we need to cooperate on it with Russia.

6) The military needs to be rebuilt, expanded, and re-tooled to handle more nation-buildy, soft-power type of chores.

7) More money for diplomacy and translators!

Some of these things are indeed important, and might well make this world a better place, ip doo tan.

But they sidestep the fundamental questions that, you'd think, Democrats (and the rest of us!) want answered. Such as: When do you go to war, and why? Are we still to be the "indispensable nation," with all the responsibility and presumption that comes with it, such as preventing mini-Munichs all over the globe, including such non-Munichs as dictators slaughtering their own people? What happens when all this groovy "collaboration" stuff doesn't produce desired results?

The answers to such questions over the past couple of days have been all over the damned map, even as the facade of unity has continued to obtain. For instance, on the question of America's unipolar role, today Albright gave a luncheon speech that:

A) fretted that the "economic center of gravity" continues to move away from the U.S.;

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  • ||

    Did John Kerry just give a shout out to Myth of a Maverick?

    Why, yes he did.

    Congrats.

  • Travis||

    The Iraqi's want to build the largest ferris wheel in the world in Baghad.

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26425911/

  • ||

    Wow, good piece, Matt.

    Scattershot. Precisely.

    I think that one way this tension among Democrats is managed in practice is through a general sense of modesty regarding the use of force, even among philosophically-interventionist Democrats. Even among people like Albright, who talk about us as the indispensable nation, the threshold for violent action is high. I suppose the opposite case would be a Bircher; a philosophically-isolationist conservative who nonetheless seems to want to pick fights all the time.

  • Franklin Harris||

    I suppose the opposite case would be a Bircher; a philosophically-isolationist conservative who nonetheless seems to want to pick fights all the time.



    In a Bircher's mind, America shouldn't pick fights, but, by God, it should finish them if someone else does. That would be all well and good if Birchers weren't so easily fooled into thinking countries have picked a fight with us when, actually, we started it.

  • ||

    I don't understand so-called libertarians like Matthew Welch, who are obsessed with the idea that the Islamo-fascists, the Russians, and whoever else opposes the US don't deserve serious opposition, and indeed are our moral superiors.

    They are joined by the so-called paleconservatives, whose isolationism borders on anti-Americanism, and often crosses the line into anti-Semitism.

    The left wing of the Democratic Party shares those views. If only we were nice to the Islamic extremists and the Russians and the Castro regime and the Chavez regime and ... then all would be well.

    Does that remind anyone of the Cold War, when liberals (and all too many libertarians) tended to believe that the Soviet Union and the West were morally equivalently, and radicals thought that the Soviet Union, though imperfect, was on the right side of history.

    All the above political tendencies share the belief that freedom is free. It isn't. It never has been and it never will be.

  • ||

    All the above political tendencies share the belief that freedom is free. It isn't. It never has been and it never will be.



    Must... avoid... Team... America... reference.

  • Les||

    I don't understand so-called libertarians like Matthew Welch, who are obsessed with the idea that the Islamo-fascists, the Russians, and whoever else opposes the US don't deserve serious opposition, and indeed are our moral superiors.

    Please point out where Welch suggested that Islamo-fascists and Russians are our moral superior. Please.

    Does that remind anyone of the Cold War, when liberals (and all too many libertarians) tended to believe that the Soviet Union and the West were morally equivalently...

    We were only morally equivalent when we were supporting terrorists and mass-murdering dictators. Besides that, which libertarians said the U.S. was morally equivalent to the Soviet Union?

  • ||

    I don't see any coherence in leftist foreign policy anytime soon. They simply do not have the intellectual model necessary to deal arena international conflict violence which more resembles street gang fights for turf than academic discussions.

    They're to invested in the idea that all problems can be solved by altering the our own behavior, especially the behavior of non-leftist. They believe this because their forte is altering our behavior through government coercion and persuasive communication. Adopting a model that requires the occasional cracking of heads means adopting a model in which leftist have little role to play.

    The left seems incoherent because they keep trying to cram their preconceived solutions into an ever changing complex world.

  • ||

    "What good is having a military if you never use it?" - Madeleine Albright

    I'm a little nostalgic for the days when people were afraid of being incinerated by nuclear bombs. Because then the idea was that war was something to be avoided. And the purpose of a military wasn't to start wars, but prevent wars from starting. Those were the days!

  • Elemenope||

    Shannon --

    Replace every single "left" and "leftist" in your post with "right" and "rightist"...and it still makes about as much sense.

    Max --

    Word.

  • ||

    Max,

    You got the quote wrong. She said, "What good is having this wonderful military if you CAN'T use it?" She said this in response to being told that the army was not capable of deploying helicopters where they were needed.

    It wasn't a philosophical statement about when to go to war, but a practical statement about capabilities.

  • ||

    It always astounds me to see Republican hawks repeating exactly the same Karl Rove talking points they were spouting in 2002, as if nothing had happen to discredit them in the past six and a half years.

    Weeks, not months.
    WMDs.
    Saddam was behind 9/11.
    Greeted with flowers.
    There is no insurgency.
    If the Sunnis boycott the elections, that's their problem.
    The insurgency is on its last legs.
    There is no sectarian tension behind Sunnis and Shiites.
    I don't worry much about bin Laden.
    Afghanistan was a success.
    Mission Accomplished.

    But it's the reality-based community that can't deal with the complicated, difficult world.

  • ||

    joe writes:

    "She said this in response to being told that the army was not capable of deploying helicopters where they were needed."

    Needed for what?

    I thought liberals had all that "diplomacy" and "communication" stuff. Are you saying that it's all just run-of-the-mill bullshit political posturing, and that when "something" happens then you're perfectly happy to break stuff and kill people?

    Notice the liberal question-begging. joe writes, "When they're needed" as if everyone just knows the answer to "When do you go to war, and why?" but no one ever has to say it out loud.

  • ||

    Well, like your belief that you know more about Islam than do practicing Muslims, it ain't necessarily so.

    How you about you RTFA?

  • ||

    Even if you take Albright as the most hawkish end of the Democratic spectrum, you're still talking about someone who spent years trying to solve the Balkans crisis without American military involvement.

    Last resort, not first. I like that.

  • ||

    Bring me some of that Bircher isolationism, on the double.

  • ||

    To each his own, ChrisO.

    The Birchers wanted to launch a first strike on the Soviets in the 50s.

    Not my definition of humility, humanity, or decency.

  • ||

    I agree, joe. The Birchers were about 10 years too late.

  • ||

    I was just being silly. I'm not a Bircher. Do they even exist anymore?

    In the modern world, I'm not sure it's even possible to be 100% isolationist, apart from North Korea. Even Bhutan stopped being a hermit kingdom a few years ago.

    But Clintonian interventionism was damaging in its own way, even if not as blatant as what Bush the Younger has done. We are neither the world's policeman nor its fire department.

  • ||

    I can appreciate that argument, Chris O. There is going to be a cost to any intervention.

    I just think it's worth weighing against the benefits. We could have saved 800,000 people in Rwanda. We could save five million in Darfur.

  • ||

    ChrisO: "was just being silly. I'm not a Bircher. Do they even exist anymore?"

    Ron Paul?

    Joe:"I just think it's worth weighing against the benefits. We could have saved 800,000 people in Rwanda. We could save five million in Darfur."

    What about Iraq? How many lives were saved when we tried to resolve their civil war?

  • Paul||

    Excellent piece, Matt (as usual).

    bulbman: Say what? Re-read the piece, then come back.

  • ||

    I just think it's worth weighing against the benefits. We could have saved 800,000 people in Rwanda. We could save five million in Darfur.

    Those are civil wars. We'd be playing World Cop in either place for the next 50+ years just to keep massacres from breaking out.

    My test is whether intervention is in service of U.S. interests. Unapologetically.

  • ||

    I can attest the Birchers exist in Northern Nevada, but they are of course small in Number.

    The are for limited government, except when it comes to immigration, trade, abortion, etc. Then they want big government.

    If I get a chance to talk to Ron Paul in Minneapolis next week, I will bring up how his strict constructionist Constitutionalism jibes with Congress passing quotas and other IMMIGRATION laws.

    The Constitution only grants Congress the power to make " uniform rules for Naturalization". Naturalization does not equal immigration.

    SCUTOS of course granted Congress the power, but it is only an "implied" power, NOT an enumerated power.

    I brought this up at a Texas LP convention one time, and had all those professed constitutionalists pulling their Pocket Constitutions out. Seems like they never thought about that.

  • ||

    Joe wrote :I just think it's worth weighing against the benefits. We could have saved 800,000 people in Rwanda. We could save five million in Darfur.



    And so, Joe, the overriding purpose of government is to "same lives", anywhere in the world, with only a cursory "cost/benefit analysis"

    Seems to me the lives that governments save most often is the lives of those in government itself. And their "legacy" and careers get saved, of course.

  • ||

    Michael,

    What about Iraq? How many lives were saved when we tried to resolve their civil war? I think invading Iraq was a terrible idea, and that trying to occupy and govern the country after toppling Saddam was a terrible idea, too. If you want someone to defend that particular action, you'll have to ask someone who supports it. That I support SOME military actions you oppose does not translate into support for ALL military actions you oppose.

    libertree,

    It's amazing what the word "cursory" can do, isn't it? If you'd care to discuss something I wrote, let me know.

  • ||

    Les:
    "Please point out where Welch suggested that Islamo-fascists and Russians are our moral superior. Please."

    Les:
    "We were only morally equivalent when we were supporting terrorists and mass-murdering dictators. Besides that, which libertarians said the U.S. was morally equivalent to the Soviet Union?"

    I may be misinterpreting Matt Welch. He doesn't like the Bush administration's tough approach to fighting terrorism, and he doesn't like Madeline Albright's "soft" approach. What policy does he advocate? His failure to offer an alternative suggest that he shares the far left's view that the US has no right to protect itself from Al Qaeda and other groups seeking to destroy our country.

    "Military" seems to be a dirty word to Welch. Why? The steep decline in terrorist attacks around the world in the last few years, and the decline in support for terrorism shown in public opinion polls taken in Muslim countries is impressive. Could that have occurred without the Coalition victory over Al Qaeda in Iraq, and without the US having captured or killed thousands of terrorists in many parts of the world?

    The influential libertarian writer Murray Rothbard was notorious for his claim that the Cold War was the fault of the US. The foreign policy writers at the libertarian Independent Institute claim that the US has been wrong in all its wars in the 20th century (and maybe in the 19th century as well).

  • ||

    Sorry, but wasn't Bush's whole man-love for Putin at the Crawford ranch more respect than the ex-KGB hack deserves?



    That little tête-à-tête wasn't respect ... it was actual man-love. If Bushco wanted to show Putin how much they respect him, they would have sent him out hunting with Cheney.

  • Invisible Finger||

    Democrats use the word "sustainable" as if we should be proud that our loftiest goal is to be in a Shiavo-like condition.

  • ||

    If Bushco wanted to show Putin how much they respect him, they would have sent him out hunting with Cheney.

    I think thats a good idea actually.

  • littlehorn||

    "Sorry, but wasn't Bush's whole man-love for Putin at the Crawford ranch more respect than the ex-KGB hack deserves?"

    UH ! Wow, gotta be completely ignorant to say that. What about the Kosovo ? The missile defense system in Poland ? Yea, those are actual policy decisions, not PR gestures intended for PHOTOGRAPHERS.

    I'm sure Putin had a big dilemma over this : "Okay, these guys have trampled all over us for years...but there's this one time I went to Bush's ranch... Ah damn ! I can't figure it out ! What should i do ??? God help me !!!"

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